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The Meredith Couch - Art with a Purpose
December 11, 2014
Top Connections for 2012
December 30, 2012
I love the end of the year , not only because it brings great beach weather and time with the family, but also for the ‘That was the year that was’-style wrap-ups of the years events that are on the television and in print.
Personally, I try to consciously restrict my exposure to what passes as news and current affairs these days. We rarely watch free-to-air television at all, preferring online services, magazines and the old-fashioned printed newspapers (often read at a table in a café).
So in the spirit of the season, here is my ‘top ten’ list of things that have caught my interest this year.. people making connections with each other and with their environment in new and innovative ways.
So, in no particular order..
The Commons, Brunswick – an inspiring example of high-density sustainable urban development, one that is a good example of a small number of apartment developments that take sustainable design to the wider market. Apartment developments generally are (surprisingly) not usually very energy-efficient due to poor design and management of the common areas, but with no air conditioning, no cars (well only a share car to augment the bicycles residents keep in the garage), and onsite waste treatment this development rates a huge 8-stars! I particularly like the fact that it integrates non-residential uses – there are three artists studio spaces and a café downstairs that begin to create more of an ‘urban village’.Read more..
The Interventionists Toolkit – Pop-ups are becoming a significant trend in retailing - I recently saw “The Idiots Guide to Pop-up Businesses’ in a bookshop! However, it’s one that presents great opportunity for DIY urbanism. They enliven otherwise dead or underutilised spaces, facilitate new and niche products and services, and have been a key strategy in helping Christchurch recover from the earthquakes. This article looks at how the recession has spawned projects “rich in inventiveness and imagination, alien to our contemporary modes of consumption. These actions propose alternative lifestyles, reinvent our daily lives, and reoccupy urban space with new uses”.
Pocket Neighborhoods – Ross Chapin is an architect in the north-western part of the USA, and over the last few decades has developed the concept of ‘pocket neighbourhoods’ – carefully designed clusters of homes sharing infrastructure. They create community spaces that are semi-private; neither car-centric public spaces nor private gardens, they provide spaces for residents to connect. [In an article that I had published this year in the Planning Institute of Australia Victorian journal, I wrote that this cluster housing style of development offers a range of opportunities to embed sustainable elements , and the Pocket Neighborhood style development is a great example of how this has been brought to the market in the US… and why not here?
Creative Communities is the business of David Engwicht, artist, community entrepreneur and DIY urban design facilitator. I’ve had the pleasure of working with David on the Golden Streets project, and hearing him compare our cities and roads to the rooms and corridors of your own home. He re-evaluates the role of urban (and interior!) designers as he asks us “what type of room do we feel most comfortable in? One that’s hospital clean or one that we have decorated ourselves?”, and teases us that “a space becomes a place only when it’s used for a purpose that was not intended by the designer”.
This year I’ve very much enjoyed the writings of Melbourne journalist Michael Green. His blog deals with issues generally relating to sustainability and community, and .. well it can’t be avoided.. ‘Green’ issues. Highly recommended.
Perhaps more suitable for Halloween than Christmas is the UK trial of ‘Road Witching’, which did indeed start as a Halloween prank, and spurred a number of practical jokes (with a practical meaning). Check out the Jaywalkers Toolkit, and the links page (with a link to Jan Gehls website.. seeing him here in Geelong a few months back was another 2012 highlight!)
Sustainable Food - After renovating his inner-city Sydney terrace and making it almost entirely self-sufficient in energy, water and waste disposal, Michael Mobbs realised his house was sustainable, but HE wasn’t. The carbon emissions associated with growing, processing, transporting, selling and disposing food meant he was far from being as sustainable as he thought. This book has great stuff about “community and backyard vegetable gardens, keeping chooks and bees, and reducing water usage, along with insights into dealing with councils, sidelining supermarkets and what we eat and why.”
It’s been a long time since I started growing my own indigenous plants and planting them in urban wasteland areas around my home on the Mornington Peninsula (although on a recent visit to Frankston I can still admire a stand of Sheokes I planted as a teenager), but I am still inspired by folk who take guerrilla gardening to another level, like they do in the UK.
If you want a great primer on the challenges and opportunities around urban design, the promotion for the American PBS television series Designing Healthy Cities is it. I’d love to see a show like this aired in Australia!
Lastly, Whale rescue – This YouTube video documents the rescue of a young Humpback Whale off the coast of Mexico recently, and prompts us to reconsider how the human species has hurt and killed so many whales, how we rarely stop to consider how our actions impact on many living things, and perhaps how many animals (and plants?) are capable of feeling and expressing emotions such as the joy of this young whale upon release.